A look back at the 2006 Final Four


Lot of coverage this week on the 10th anniversary of George Mason’s Final Four run in 2006. Has it been that long? Definitely has a special place in my heart as I started this site that August after it happened. There’s a great in-depth look from Matt Norlander of CBS that is definitely worth your time and shares a lot tidbits that most people don’t know. Also the Washington Post has a great video:

Jim Larranaga and his Miami team will be practicing at George Mason to prep before the ACC tournament. Will they scrimmage our guys?

Doesn’t seem like all the George Mason players agreed with Larranaga’s coaching style

Last week ESPN.com ran a feature on next year’s George Mason basketball outlook, as part of their summer buzz collection. Another article by Dana O’Neil seems to be high on Paul Hewitt’s chances to succeed during this “fresh start”.  But the most interesting one from the mix was featured on the Insiders page.  It talks about the different coaching styles between Jim Larranaga and Hewitt and how it can have an impact on next year’s team.  Seems Ryan Pearson and some other players weren’t too fond of Larranaga’s substitution style. Here is the excerpt:
“GMU will be one of the most experienced teams in the Colonial Athletic Association next season, and the coaching styles of Hewitt and Larranaga are on different ends of the spectrum. For example, the Patriots have rarely depended on their bench; last season, only six players were on the floor for more than 50 percent of Mason’s minutes played. According to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, Mason’s bench was underused. (It’s worth pointing out that so was every bench in the CAA; after Georgia State and William & Mary, the drop-off was pretty severe.) With Hewitt at the helm, Georgia Tech was known for its hockey-style substitution patterns. Besides Glen Rice, Iman Shumpert and Brian Oliver, the rest of the Yellow Jackets saw a fairly even number of minutes, and their bench enjoyed one of the highest percentage of minutes played in the nation. Ask senior Ryan Pearson, though, and the forward suggests that Mason needed a change. 

“Coach Larranaga had a six- or seven-man rotation, and I didn’t think it was good — but we did win 27 games, so it worked for us,” Pearson says. “We have 10 guys who can play, and it’ll make guys happier that when they kill in practice, they then actually get to play.”

It’s hard to argue with Larranaga’s results because fans will remember that the Final Four run was basically the result of a 6-man rotation, much like this past season’s 27 win campaign. However it’s interesting to see one of the players, especially one that played the most during the year, complaining about it and insinuating that it may have hurt team chemistry.  We could witness the returning players warming up to the new coach right away once the season starts and making the transition a much more smooth process.
Another point I wanted to share from the article was about next season’s back court.  We already know the strength the front court will have with returning senior starters Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson coupled with the addition of the highly touted freshman Erik Copes. The back court has a few more question marks, especially in the starting line-up.  Matt Giles seems to be high on both Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen making an impact this year:

“At the moment, it’s unclear what the rotation will be, but senior Andre Cornelius probably will start at the point. The potential surprise could be sophomore Bryon Allen, who averaged 5.8 minutes per game last season. “I’ve been working a lot with Bryon, and he’s been doing a good job of working on his shot. With his size, he can play the 1 or the 2, get in the lane and create,” Wright says. If Hewitt decides to go with a more guard-heavy lineup, a backcourt of Wright, Allen and Cornelius could cause some interesting matchup problems.”

I have to say the mention of that Wright, Allen, and Cornelius line-up is intriguing.  Wright and Allen probably have the most potential to make big strides next season and fans are going to be eager to see them worked into the rotation often.  

Will Larranaga Court ever happen at George Mason?

Eric Angevine of CBSSports.com, and big CAA follower talks about the chances of George Mason ever playing on “Larranaga Court”. Mason fans have been talking about this since the 2006 Final Four but now with Larranaga’s resignation from the green and gold people wonder if it will ever happen.  Angevine cites Corey Schmidt of Halcyon Hoops who made this chart showing that Larranaga falls below the average tenure for what it took for most other schools to name the court after their coach:
Chart by Halcyon Hoops
I agree with what they saying that if Larranaga had retired instead of moving on to Miami this would be closer to a lock but currently the sting is still there from his departure. Most would say his accomplishments at George Mason would merit a court naming but does jumping ship to South Beach overshadow that?  Say he has three subpar seasons at Miami and retires, would the fan base still be bitter?  It’s an interesting question because let’s face it George Mason doesn’t do much to honor former players or coaches.  There is no retired jersey of George Evans hanging in the rafters and the all the Final Four guys got were toy sized bobble-heads

George Mason to interview Jeff Jones today?

There have been a ton of names thrown out there for the head coaching job at George Mason lately.  From names like Jeff Capel to guys like Stony Brook’s Steve Pikiell.  People who we may have thought were in the early running like Bill Courtney and Mike Lonergan seem to not be high on Tom O’Connor’s list. Neither have been contacted by the university and Lonergan is already talking to GW about their vacancy. Meanwhile the local media near Cornell seems to think Courtney isn’t going anywhere
One name that may or may not make the Mason fan base cringe is Jeff Jones, who is currently the head coach at American.  Yesterday afternoon Greg Burton of ESPN950 radio in Richmond claimed that Jones will be interviewing at George Mason today.  You can listen here, it starts at about the 7 minute mark.  Could be the Mason administration just doing their due diligence of a local guy but you never know with these things.  
Jeff Jones is an interesting candidate because he doesn’t seem like the type of character guy the administration would bring in after someone like Jim Larranaga.  Jones starred as a point guard at UVA and then went on to be come the youngest ACC coach at the time at the age of 29.  He had early success and compiled a 146-104 record while there and reached the Elite Eight in 1995. His teams went to the NCAA tournament five times out of eight seasons and he won the NIT championship in 1992. However the program unraveled during his last three seasons, some of which because of off-the-court issues from both Jones and his players. Apparently it was rumored that Jones had an affair with a UVA cheerleader that eventually led to a divorce from his wife in 1996.  He was  dismissed in 1998 after three sub-par seasons and then became the head coach at American in 2000.  Jones has taken American to the NCAA tournament twice but his overall work there doesn’t exactly “wow” you.  
I can’t say I’d really be all that thrilled if Jeff Jones was the next George Mason head basketball coach.  He seems like the polar opposite of Jim Larranaga, who Fairfax and the alumni/student body fell in love with.  When you hear things from media closer to the situation describing the end of his time at UVA as “a train wreck in slow motion”, it’s difficult to applaud Tom O’Connor for bringing this guy in.  I believe in giving people second changes but it’s one of those ‘is this the best guy out there’ type of deals. O’Connor has to know hiring someone like Jones won’t exactly win back the Mason fan base, right?

Are all the assistant coaches following Jim Larranaga to Miami?

We already knew that the assistant coaches were looking for work elsewhere after the news about Jim Larranaga’s departure surfaced. Now it seems they may be headed to Miami as well. Josh Barr of the Washington Post, who covers recruiting and local high school sports, tweeted today that all the George Mason assistant coaches were following Larranaga to the ACC:
Barr would be a reliable source as he has a long history of reporting on recruiting updates that have to do with the assistant coaches.  If the entire coaching staff goes to Miami you really have to start worrying about certain players following them there as well.  

Who will be the next head coach at George Mason?

Still weird to think I won’t be seeing Jim Larranaga at the CAA media day this year but when you read about why he left George Mason, you almost can’t blame him. If your a Mason fan your anger and blame really can’t be placed on Larranaga but rather the University administration and AD Tom O’Connor.  They have made it pretty clear they don’t seem to care all that much about staying competitive in what has become a much improved CAA conference. Larranaga on 106.7 The Fan this morning completely dodged the question about his rumored rift with O’Connor, it’s safe to say that was a big issue. Here is the audio from that exchange:

Also here is a little piece of that Mike Wise article about Coach L’s departure that the SB Nation highlighted and I think everyone should read:

“Mason could’ve done more.

Did you know VCU is spreading $150,000 among Smart’s three assistant coaches, who already make about $300,000 between them, because they understand what it takes to keep their young, hot coach to stay in Richmond?”

Sure money wasn’t the only reason Larranaga left. He always wanted to coach in the ACC, has siblings in Florida, a house there already, and you can’t blame his wife for wanting to spend their later years away from those Northern Virginia winters.

Now we look to who will be the next head coach at George Mason.  Unlike in 1997 when Larranaga was inheriting a basement CAA team, a new coach here would take on a team that could be receiving some Top 25 votes in the early weeks. The position seems pretty open and really anyone could be a candidate at this point.  I’ve already speculated Bill Courtney but remember he’s only been at Cornell as a head coach for one season. He might want to see what he can do there before taking on something else and at this point I’m not even sure if the school has contacted him. The Washington Examiner posted this Top 5 list over the weekend:

5. Jim Baron » The last basketball coach O’Connor hired before Larranaga was Baron in 1992, when O’Connor was the AD at St. Bonaventure. Baron has six 20-win seasons in 10 years at Rhode Island but no NCAA appearances. At 57, is he too old and too settled?

4. Jim Ferry » The 43-year-old took run-and-gun Long Island to the NCAA tournament with two local standouts — Springbrook grads C.J. Garner and Jamal Olasewere. But does O’Connor have bad memories of uptempo basketball after inheriting Paul Westhead when he took over at George Mason in 1994?

3. Mike Rhoades » If Shaka Smart had left VCU, the Rams would have been comfortable promoting his 36-year-old assistant, who posted a 197-76 mark in 10 seasons at Randolph-Macon.

2. Bill Courtney » The 40-year-old former player at Robert E. Lee High and current coach at Cornell served eight seasons under Larranaga, recruiting many of the players from the Patriots’ 2006 Final Four team. Big question: Does O’Connor want a Larranaga disciple?

1. Mike Lonergan » In six seasons, the 45-year-old has taken Vermont to the NCAA once, CBI once and NIT twice. Lonergan has plenty of local ties, playing at Archbishop Carroll, playing and coaching at Catholic and working as an assistant at Maryland. George Mason is a logical next step.

Mike Lonergan seems like the most logical choice at this point because of this area ties and track record.  Apparently a radio station in the Vermont area says he’s a finalist for the George Mason job. However the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan said this morning that Lonergan has yet to be contacted by George Mason.  Perhaps this could be happening this week. One name not on that list is American head coach Jeff Jones who also played and coached at UVA.  He’s really brought up the program at American and has experience talking teams to the NCAA tournament.

We could very well be hearing some new names this week because at this point it’s all speculation by fans and the the media.

Update on the assistant coaches

Photo by John Powell
While the search begins for next head coach in Fairfax I’ve learned that the George Mason assistant coaches all have interviewed for other coaching jobs.  

-Chris Caputo interviewed for assistant coach jobs with Kentucky and Florida

-Mike Huger interviewed with Villanova

-Eric Konkol interviewed at a Division III school

All three coaches were asked by Jim Larranaga to join him in Miami. It doesn’t seem like any are being considered for a promotion to head coach at George Mason.

Also regarding the 2011 incoming freshmen it seems that both Corey Edwards and Vaughn Gray are undecided about if they will still be coming to George Mason.  They both are waiting to see who the new head coach is before making a final decision.

[Source: Steven Goff]

Early favorite to replace Jim Larranaga could be Bill Courtney

With Jim Larranaga now officially leaving for Miami who will be the next George Mason head coach?  One name your going to hear a lot about is former Larranaga assistant Bill Courtney.  Courtney practically built the 2006 Final Four team and still has ties to the school.  Boosters have told me he paid money out of his own pocket to travel to Cleveland to watch this year’s team in the NCAA tournament. Courtney left the program  right before the 2005-2006 season to go to Providence and watched the team he had a large hand in recruiting reach the Final Four. The university paid for him to be there during that year at the NCAA tournament.  He then moved on to be an assistant at Virginia, Virginia Tech and brief stint at VCU before becoming head coach at Cornell where he is at currently.  
Courtney would be a great hire as he is already familar with the program and the university.  There could be a few more sexy candidates out there, such as Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, a Fairfax native.  Wouldn’t that be ironic if the guy who turned down the Miami replaces the guy who took it?  Also current Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan could be a candidate. I would love to see Chris Caputo get the job but I heard rumors he’s got something else in the works, we’ll have to wait and see.
Mason AD Tom O’Connor, who I’m sure most fans aren’t happy with right now, says he wants to replace Larranaga quickly but as thoroughly as possible.

Update: The latest from the Post:

“However, a source close to the team said Courtney would be a long shot to get the job, at best.
Another possibility is Vermont Coach Mike Lonergan, a former assistant at Maryland and former head coach at Catholic, where he led the Cardinals to the 2001 Division III national championship. Lonergan was born in Silver Spring and raised in Bowie, and he attended Archbishop Carroll High School.

American Coach Jeff Jones and Virginia Commonwealth assistant Mike Rhoads are also seen by some as possible candidates.”

Jim Larranaga to leave George Mason, accept Miami head coaching job

Gary Parrish of the CBSSports.com and Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports have confirmed that Jim Larranaga is taking the Miami job.

The news came as a bit of a shock to the Mason nation yesterday.  I certainly didn’t see this coming, especially after Larranaga turned down the Providence job for the 2nd time.  The move is a little puzzling to the college basketball community because the University of Miami isn’t exactly a better coaching job despite being an ACC opportunity.  Larranaga is leaving behind a potential Top 30 team in next year’s Patriots and at 61 is taking on the task of rebuilding a struggling ACC program.

Almost every member of the seems to be scratching their head as to why now and why Miami. He’s had opportunities to coach in power conferences before at much more established programs.  The Miami job is arguably the worst one in the ACC in terms of program support and fan attendance.  Does he really care that much about newer facilities at this stage of his career? Perhaps the move is strictly about money.

This whole speaks to the George Mason administration. Gary Parrish said “it got nasty between Jim  and athletic director Tom O’Connor at the end. Both egos played a role”. Larranaga has talked about resources before in his career and it was the reason he left Bowling Green for Fairfax back in 1997.  He’s resources were being cut there and who knows if something like that is happening here.  For instance where is the basketball practice facility the school talked about almost two and half years ago? I wouldn’t be surprised if Larranaga was promised things back in 2006 and then again in 2008 that didn’t quite materialize.  There was a clause in his contract that stated the school would spend $150K a year to promote the of the program. Aside from a funny cartoon YouTube that went semi-viral I’d love to see how exactly that money was spent.

In the end it’s about getting paid. Larranaga is at the end of his career and just saw a 2nd year fellow CAA coach get $500K more in annual base salary then him after doing exactly what he did in 2006. It’s not about winning, he has done that already it’s about him doubling his salary when he has the opportunity.  People will say he’s looking for a challenge, as if bringing George Mason out of the basement of the CAA wasn’t enough of a daunting task especially when you think of what this program was like back in 1997.

Larranaga is responsible for the George Mason program you now see that will most likely be a Top 30 team unless a bunch of guys transfer. The program obtained some brand recognition over the last couple of years and he really built something great here in Fairfax.  It’s sad to seem him go as he has been the face of George Mason basketball but this was going to happen sooner or later.  The head coaching job at Mason is now one of the most coveted currently available so at least we aren’t searching for a new coach during a rebuilding process.